Thursday, October 9, 2014

Balloon Fiesta Weekend

Flight #96-97 - United 1494 and 3855 
Newark (EWR) – Albuquerque (ABQ)
Friday, October 10, 2014 
Depart: 7:00AM / Arrive: 12:31PM
Duration: 7hr 31min (incl. 2 hr layover)
Earned: 1,953 miles
Cost: 30,813 Points + $112 / person
Redemption Value: 1.25 cents / mile
Lifetime Miles: 187,437 miles 

Well, it's another long weekend coming up (thank you Christopher Columbus), so we're off again. This time, we're heading to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

As you can tell, my parents enjoy all sorts of destinations ranging from relaxing poolside at a resort, to hiking in the mountains, to sightseeing in major international capitals. This trip, however, is more of an event destination as we're going to the week-long International Balloon Fiesta they have in Albuquerque each year. Yeah, talk about random...but awesome.

My father actually booked our hotel way back in January just to make sure we could secure a room at a convenient location.

That was early enough to snag 3 nights at the Holiday Inn Express Balloon Fiesta Park, which is actually walkable to the center of the ballooning action. Given peak rates for the Fiesta, we used IHG points (20,000 pts/night) instead of paying the cash rates of $200/night that they rooms were going for at the time.

Since most hotel award booking are fully refundable, we had a free option until we decided to actually make the trip. Thankfully we had secured rooms early enough, because when we checked a few months later this summer, every proper hotel in the area was fully booked!

Around mid-July, it was clear that we were going to have Columbus Weekend free, so we decided to commit fully and book our flights. Wow, talk about peak Fiesta pricing! Flights from Newark were going for $493/person with a connection each way.

There were some other options though. We could have taken a direct flight from JFK on JetBlue for about the same price or we could have used the $99 Companion Passes on US Airways we received for having the Barclays US Airways Mastercard.

That certificate would have saved us about $700, but we would still have had to (a) pay $800 in cash and (b) fly on US Airways via Phoenix (no status, long flight, old planes, no in-seat entertainment, no power outlets, mediocre service, have to fly into JFK). Ultimately, my father decided to save the Companion Passes for another trip in the future where (i) the cash prices were high, but (ii) the actual flight was short.

Fortunately, my parents still had about 92,440 Citi Thank You points that could be redeemed for $1,156 of airfare credit (at 1.25 cents/pt). After using all those TY points, we only needed to come out of pocket for the $337 balance. Paying just $112 cash per person isn't too shabby for a round trip flight during a peak event time. Plus, we'd get free checked bags, priority boarding and lounge access for our layovers.

But the biggest benefit for choosing United was actually that my father really wanted the 1,953 Premier Qualifying Miles (PQM) to hit 50,000 this year and re-qualify for MileagePlus Gold Status next year. Because the short flight from DEN-ABQ will be counted as 500 minimum miles, he will be at exactly 50,010 PQM on United after we land in Albuquerque.

That's not a coincidence. I did all the calculations myself.

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